Rubbish At Sport? Be Proud.

Great Britain


As a kid I was the second to last to be picked for football matches. My friend John was last, and he had polio. In my school you played compulsory rugby or cricket. I usually went to the library and took the punishment, although I did play once and let through the winning try, because me and my friend Simon were didn’t notice the player barreling towards us (we were discussing Samuel Beckett). I played one game of cricket and got hit in the eye with the ball.

Nobody in my family ever played any sport of any kind. My mother considered football ‘common’, my father occasionally watched motor-racing and that was it. My brother and I have proudly carried on the anti-sport gene. This doesn’t mean we were unfit; we never sat around, we just weren’t interested in competitive stuff.

In LA, my best friend had played professional tennis and had to give it up after a damaged hamstring; he became a travel agent. It seemed that sport promised you much, then snatched your career away, like ballet.

Years later I attempted to change this. Our company formed a softball team and foolishly challenged other film studios. When we played Disney, we arrived at the park to find our opponents doing pull-ups from trees. We’d been for a meal. We lost that one. Actually, there needs to be a stronger word than ‘lost’.

Undeterred, we played on. Martin, our art director (and designer of the upcoming e-book covers) made our team shirts, but the transfer inks hadn’t dried by the time of our next game, and we all got covered in orange paint. It looked like Holi festival more than a sports match.

Our third game was against Universal. They had drafted in huge scary ringers from their US office. On our side we had two very short players, one an artist wearing bondage trousers, our studio head Mia was on crutches and as we were a player short we had drafted in her terrier.

The Universal team leader looked at us and said, ‘Wow, they’ve got two midgets, a cripple, a dog and a guy with his legs tied together.’ We lost that one too. I got hit on the head with the ball and my brain pan emptied out of fluid. I was sick for a few days.

Recently I had a kick-about with friends and their kids. One, about eleven, accidentally kicked me in the face and I got a detached retina.

The point is that none of this stops you from writing about sport. For an anthology on football I wrote ‘Permanent Fixture’, a story about an abused wife married to an Arsenal fan who is protected by the very football crowd she has come to hate.

The moral of this story: You don’t have to be Hemingway. Write what you don’t know.

6 comments on “Rubbish At Sport? Be Proud.”

  1. RobertR says:

    At my secondary school I managed not to do any ‘ games’ from 11-16 – instead I was in the library working my way through Dickens, Hardy, Austen & the Brontes (which strikes me as far more useful than running up and down a playing field on a wet and windy afternoon). Luckily I had a very accommodating grandmother who crafted a one note lasts five years – but oddly my father, grandfather and great uncle were all obsessive (& in some cases professional sportsmen – football, cricket, rugby, athletics the full range!)
    Meanwhile I can not catch, throw, kick, or hit balls with sticks, racquets, bats – but I’m awfully good at looking after the coats!

  2. Helen Martin says:

    In elementary school my brother had a Welsh new-to-Canada teacher (named Jones surprisingly) who knew nothing about baseball. He asked them to teach him, so that’s what they were doing – and these kids played hardball- when Mr. Jones was asked how cricket differed from baseball. He said he could demonstrate cricket pitching and they agreed. He threw and the boy at the plate was hit full in the face. He had to have reconstructive surgery on his tear ducts. Cricket was banned.
    I played volleyball in elementary before height became a problem and badminton for years. Having to wear glasses was an advantage because I didn’t have to worry about being hit by the shuttlecock. I don’t now because my knees aren’t what they were. I avoided basketball when I could because guards always seemed to have long pointy fingernails and besides at 5 feet I was at a distinct disadvantage. My father played rugby for his high school, a better game than American football for the just over 5 foot player. (Small, but fast, I’m told) Nothing wrong with sports and I don’t mind being forced to play in gym class – you won’t know if it’s fun unless you try – but I don’t care for the compulsion to play out of class time. One girl in a class I subbed in just stood in her place on the volleyball court and would not move at all. I put her on the sidelines and played myself. Ended up with a broken finger and the staff were so busy enjoying a farewell lunch for the secretary I had to fill in the accident form myself.

  3. Ford says:

    Sport would be an interesting area for Bryant and May. Most of the PCU team must get caught up in ballyhoo of big sporting events – everybody becomes an expert on rugby for the weekend! I could see that Arthur would be very dismissive of modern sport ( football’s not been the same since Arsenal moved nort of the river!), interesed in the social history – a team founded on a dog bite,; a team rivallary routedin the General Strike; the alledged origin of “… as sick as parrot!”; etc. Bryant would be investigatng something that (mostly) he has no interest or knowldge of.

  4. Helen Martin says:

    Ford has a fabulous idea, Admin. It would be fun to read even if it was agonising to write.

  5. Alan Morgan says:

    I got put in teams at school for things like cricket, basketball, and… cross country. For the first too I did put in the effort as it meant not doing anything muddy. The fun of a freezing battlefield in January ever escaped me. The last I wasn’t paying attention and kept on getting okay times in. There was no reading option.

    For the last then clearly there is research. Burning Man admirably points out how much you do know about police procedure, if only to highlight how B&M don’t do that. Sad that I called the ending right some posts ago. And regarding one comment therein, we weren’t having a hissy fit 😉

  6. Alan Morgan says:

    Two, not too. Sorry about that.

Comments are closed.